We’re entering unprecedented times. Just a few weeks ago, the Coronavirus outbreak was happening somewhere else to someone else. Now Covid-19 is affecting all of us and increasingly we’re being warned that this is not just a global health crisis, but also an economic one.
Thankfully, data centres have resilience in place to survive crises like this.
Businesses must be prepared to change the way they operate in order to survive the pandemic. Most office workers have been sent home. All but essential travel is suspended. Supply chains are disrupted. And yet somehow everyone needs to find a way to deliver some semblance of ‘business as usual’. The question for UK data centre operators is: How can we support our customers as they adjust to this new normal?
This is the topic of discussion at the now regular techUK data centre operator meetings, which Jack Bedell-Pearce (CEO of 4D Data Centres) initiated at the end of February.
techUK represents a collective of more than 850 UK tech companies.
“It was obvious to me that we needed to pool our experience and discuss ways to help our customers through this crisis,” explains Jack Bedell-Pearce who is also the Vice-Chair of the techUK Data Centre Council. “Our customers are concerned about business continuity and data centres are a critical component of that.”
Fortunately, data centres are in the business of providing business continuity. Whether it’s maintaining computer systems against standard faults, or defending them against cyber attacks – or simply achieving the ideal performance environment – data centres wouldn’t be in business if they couldn’t weather a crisis.
We’ve picked a couple of key Q&As and discussions from our recent meetings and conversations with customers, where we’ve reassured them their computer systems are in the best possible (freshly washed and sanitised) hands.
A comprehensive list of what UK data centres are doing about COVID-19 can be found on the techUK website.
Will the data centre shut down if a staff member tests positive for COVID-19?
Business continuity is as important to us as it is to you. That’s why we’ve:
- Split our key personnel into shifts
- Sent home everyone who can work remotely
- Segregated those who do stay in the office into separate rooms.
We’re taking every possible precaution to prevent the spread of COVID-19 between staff members. This is a policy that pretty much every major UK data centre operator involved with techUK has now adopted.
“We were talking to other data centre operators as early as January about the potential threat of a pandemic,” says Jack. “We are way ahead of the curve compared to other businesses. In February we replaced our ‘push to exit’ buttons with infrared scanners and made other changes, such as with our signing in procedure, to reduce common touchpoints and minimise physical contact. Having stress-tested our work-from-home procedures, we’re now well into that stage and everything is going to plan.”
How will the pandemic affect internet service provisions?
We see no threat to the physical infrastructure surrounding the network.
“To be honest, having multiple people video conferencing is not as much of a test to the bandwidth as typical evening usage, where much of the UK is streaming Netflix or catching up on something on iPlayer,” says Jack. “The working-from-home traffic isn’t going to stress the system. But it will probably change business usage, which is why we’ve taken off the usual usage limits and given all our customers free unlimited internet. This removes the financial burden in a time of uncertainty, while also ensuring everyone gets the speeds they want for as long as they want. We’re increasingly seeing customers take this up as they become more vigilant about things like backing up – which can only be a good thing!”
While we’re talking about infrastructure, it’s also worth noting that we are not anticipating any problems with the power supply to the data centre. However, we do have enough fuel supplies to provide 4 – 5 days of power from our on-site generators. So even if there was an outage, the data centre would continue to operate as usual.
If the government initiates a nationwide lock down, will the data centre still be manned?
Companies like 4D Data Centres and other UK DC operators are working closely with techUK who are in the process of confirming with the government that we will be permitted to continue to staff data centres in the event of a formal lock down. It’s a question of either having UK data centres recognised as ‘Critical National Infrastructure’ (CNI) providers or having our workers designated as ‘Key Workers’. Given many UK DC operators are not just colocation facilities but also internet service providers, this seems like a no-brainer. With government permission, we will continue to operate the data centre using a skeleton staff for the duration of this crisis. In the meantime, we are doing absolutely everything we can to minimise the risk of multiple senior engineers going offline or being ill at the same time.
What happens if a server needs fixing and no one can come out to repair it?
With travel restrictions and social distancing policy in place, customers who would usually send their own engineers to fix their servers in their office may no longer be able to do so. However, most data centres operate a Remote Hands service, where customers can put in a request for our technical engineers to go to their rack and perform a physical action – like turning the machine on and off again! While the pandemic is ongoing, we and other operators have increased the number of hours of free remote hands that we offer our customers, which will avoid them travelling unnecessarily.
What would you do in the event of contamination by a COVID-19-positive visitor?
Standard deep-clean procedure for offices where there has been an instance of COVID-19 infection is whole room fogging, where viricide is sprayed on all surfaces. This isn’t possible on a data floor, so we have been looking at ways of tracking visitors, alternative cleaning methods and quarantining individual racks. This is something we’re all taking very seriously – both in terms of the potential for further infection and also the best way to look after the equipment that is in our care. We’re fortunate that within the techUK community there are multinational companies with data centre experience from affected areas like Wuhan and Milan, which are able to share their experience with us.
We take our responsibility to you very seriously
As an industry, UK data centre operators recognise their responsibility to help customers get through these very difficult times. Though we talk about ‘business as usual’, we recognise that we are entering some of the most unusual and challenging days we have ever known. But as this pandemic develops, we want to reassure all data centre users that we are committed to keeping you online, keeping your systems safe, and keeping you going in whatever way we can.
We will continue to update our resources page and welcome any questions you might have. Please be assured that whatever else is going on, we’ve got your back.